"All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl."
- Jean-Luc Godard
I adore the shallow, static Spring Breakers more than I can express. And that declaration, which I made to several people I talk to about movies, has received a variety of reactions ranging from "Are you serious?" to "Right on." None of which really surprise me. Harmony Korine (Trash Humpers) has produced what amounts to the ultimate inkblot on film. Spring Breakers is so broad and blank that one can ascribe just about any intentions onto it. For me, it all boils down to the Godard quote above. After early success as the 19-year-old screenwriter of the harrowing and controversial Kids (1995), Korine has directed several obscure (though critically notable) extended doodles such as Gummo (1997) and Mister Lonely (2007). Spring Breakers represents a stab at the relatively mainstream, a movie built on sex and violence populated by Disney Channel junior divas willing to go pretty far to leave their squeaky-clean image behind.
The opening montage in Spring Breakers is a techno-scored succession of pans past college students frolicking in various states of undress, drinking and cavorting in sexually suggestive poses on the beach. But Korine and cinematographer Benoît Debie (Enter the Void) slow the action down to the point of day-glo abstraction. Every quivering breast reveals its silicone-implanted underpinnings. Each shaking buttock is pock-marked with cellulite. And the liquor that spews onto these young women from the phallic bottles guys hold at crotch-level looks more like poison than the sexual connotations of their lewd actions might imply. Some critics have taken these early scenes as an attempt by Korine at some "stinging" moralistic commentary. But up until now, Korine has proven to be more of a cinematic vandal, the kind of prankster one would expect to scrawl on a piece of celluloid with the metaphorical equivalent of a graffiti tag rather than flesh out a fully realized thought about our culture. And there's nothing wrong with that.
After a weekend of home viewing which consisted of Howard Hawks, Spike Lee and David Mamet, I was struck by something. With each successive generation of filmmakers one gets less and less of a sense that these artists have been around. One need only experience the tonal shifts—from excitement to mournful grief to low comedy—in even a second-tier Hawks, like his western El Dorado (1966), to appreciate that the filmmaker has had a full life. Lee crams the wonderful and life-altering changes starting a family brings to the life of a washed-up musician into just under 5 minutes at the conclusion of Mo' Better Blues (1990), approximating the whirlwind transformation such changes often feel like in reality. Mamet goes even more microscopic, drawing the bare outline of a rock music legend with only a handful of actors in last night's HBO movie, Phil Spector, focusing on the trial prep and avoiding the courtroom altogether in his aim to capture a flesh and blood man (as eccentric as he may be) facing a personal crucible. It's the law of diminishing returns put into practice in American cinema. And Korine is its next stage, a filmmaker so niche that even in his move towards the mainstream he acknowledges how limited his life experiences are. Nothing resembling reality intrudes in this "Girls Gone Wild Gone Even Wilder" version of Bonnie and Clyde.
Save for the inherent irony of building a movie around a couple of slutted up tweeny-bopper heroines and the superficial lure of the trance-like, synth-pop-fueled world they inhabit, Spring Breakers is a nihilistic void. When two of the movie's alluring reprobates pull out from their vacation after their horrid circumstances escalate into the increasingly terrifying, Korine seems less sympathetic and more judgmental: they just aren't tough enough to hang with the real women. Of course, even Alien ("Look at my shi-yet.") is unmasked as a wannabe by the two most uncompromising spring breakers in an unforgettable scene—the film's ultimate fusing of sex and violence—in which he's forced to fellate two loaded guns simultaneously. Yes, Spring Breakers will leave you feeling both exhilarated and sleazy once it's all wrapped up, much the way you would after a night of total debauchery in Daytona. There is no moral to Spring Breakers, fellas... no matter what it seems like Korine is saying at the start of the movie. But at least the director is self-aware enough to realize his limitations and own the particular tiny, lurid niche he's carved out for himself. Big ups for that.